Stevens: 70-60 Slapdown of SDSU Aztecs Could Bring MW Title on Saturday

Feb. 27, 2013

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -Mountain West - In The Pit

Wednesday: New Mexico 70, San Diego State 60
Saturday: 3 p.m. (MT) -- Wyoming at New Mexico - Bob King Floor

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

When he walked into the postgame media room, you were tempted to pat down Steve Alford to see if the Lobo coach already was carrying around the scissors he hopes to whip out Saturday after Wyoming exits The Pit.

There are Mountain West championship nets waiting to be cut down and a win over Wyoming will be the finishing touch - a touch set up by a convincing 70-60 Pit win Wednesday night over San Diego State.

"It's pretty much top of our list in things we desire," said Alford of winning a MW title on Senior Night in front of a sold-out Pit. "I want it to be a joyous, fun atmosphere."

Said Alex Kirk: "We want to win this thing on Saturday. I think we owe it to our fans who have been so great to us this season."

It was a joyous and fun environment Wednesday night in The Pit as the Lobos avenged their 55-39 loss in San Diego State, snapped the Aztecs two-game win streak in The Pit, and set the stage to win a MW title with a win over Wyoming.

"When we come together and just have fun and relax, we are a really good basketball team," said Kirk, who had 25 points, seven boards, three assists, three blocks and paced UNM from the 3-point line going 3-of-3.

In San Diego, the Lobos scored 39 points and Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow combined for a single field goal going 1-of-12 from the floor.

In The Pit Wednesday, Kirk and Bairstow combined for 41 points. They were monsters in the paint, added a combined 12 points from the free-throw line and Kirk hit one less trey than the Aztecs hit as a team.

Kendall Williams, who had 10 treys at Colorado State, went 0-of-4 from behind the line and made a single field goal.

"You can't guard an unselfish team," said Kirk, referring to the Lobos' willingness to share the wealth and the jumpers.

"I don't think this team cares who it is," said Alford, referring to scoring. "It's just a team that feeds upon each other. It's a very unselfish group that understands championships, that understands winning.

"I thought a big key tonight was what our two bigs did. Our bigs were just dominant. Our bigs combine for 41. We're hard to prepare for, that's what makes us a difficult ball club. It was a tremendous win for us."

The Lobos took control of the game in the second half going from a 31-28 lead at the 18:40 mark into a 42-30 lead with 14:30 to play. The Lobos went up by as many as 15 points - 50-35 at 11:22 - and the Aztecs cut it to 54-49 at the 4:34 mark.

The Lobos once again took control of the stretch run.

Bairstow scored 16 points and had five boards to go along with Kirk's 25 points and seven boards. Tony Snell had 10 points and Hugh Greenwood and Williams each had six rebounds. Williams had eight assists.

"It was a good physical game. I like that aspect of the game," said Bairstow.

The Aztecs won the board battle, 36-30. SDSU shot 36.2 percent for the game, 33.3 percent in the second half against UNM's lock-down defense. The Lobos shot 47.7 percent on their home floor, a roasting 60 percent in the second half. The Lobos, who scored 39 at SDSU, scored 42 in the second half.

"We're going to be hard to beat scoring 40 in a half just because of the way we guard," said Alford.

Jamaal Franklin had 16 points and nine boards, but went 3-of-13 from the field. He was the only Aztec in double figures.

"To hold him to three field goals, that's a key," said Alford of Franklin. "He plays with an incredibly high motor."

The win raises UNM's record to 24-4 overall and 11-2 in the Mountain race. San Diego State falls to 20-8 and 8-6 in the MW. UNM has a two-game lead over CSU.

"What tastes good is they (SDSU) are eliminated from the conference race," said Alford. "The team picked to win it (SDSU) is out of it. The team picked to win it leaves here four games behind us and that's a very good basketball team. We have eliminated six (teams) and we can win a championship on Senior Day."

The Lobos said they were fired up by some social media comments out of San Diego that more or less - mostly more - disrespected the Lobos' advantage in The Pit.

"Yeah, we were pretty aware of that," said Alford.

Said Kirk: "Their record in here is something no other team in the country has done in here. We understood the pain of losing at home. We do not want people coming in here and winning games."

Sounds good. If the Lobos hold serve in The Pit on Saturday, the scissors will be coming out and the nets will be coming down.

And The Pit will be joyous.

Second Half: New Mexico 42, San Diego State 34

The Lobos, up two points, needed to separate. That meant holding the athletic Aztecs on one end and converting on the other. The Lobos did it - slowly but efficiently and with help from the 3-point line.

UNM got treys from Greenwood and Snell to help the Lobos stay up 33-28. A Kirk trey off an Aztec turnover made it 38-30. The Aztecs then had a turnover and a missed trey that led to Williams scoring on a baseline drive with a reverse finish. The Aztecs were down 40-30 and Coach Steve Fisher called a timeout at 15:20.

His Aztecs needed to quiet the Lobos and The Pit - a tough thing to do when both Lobos and The Pit are sharing a roll.

The Lobos continued to drift away. Kirk scored inside and Snell hit a jumper off a pick to push UNM into a 46-33 lead. The Aztecs went into the one-and-one at the 12:12 mark, missed, and UNM got a breakaway dunk from Chad Adams. UNM was up 48-33 at the 12:02 mark.

UNM came out of a huddle and Williams penetrated and kicked off to Kirk underneath. He flipped up sort of an over-the-head backhanded layup: 50-35. The Aztecs came back with a smart tactic - they attacked the paint and worked for good shots.

At the 8:12 mark, Alford called time with his group up 50-42. At 7:01, Alford again called for a huddle. SDSU had cut it to 52-46. The Lobos needed to steal away the Aztecs' momentum.

The Lobos went up 54-46 on two free throws by Bairstow. Williams, an 80 percent shooter at the line, missed two at 6:01. At the final media stop at 3:29, a Bairstow dunk carried UNM into its huddle with a 57-49 lead.

The Aztecs hung around - a little bit. Franklin used the free-throw line to twice cut UNM's lead to six points: 57-51 and 59-53. The Aztecs were doing a good job of not forcing up shots until Chase Tapley went for a hero shot from behind the line and missed.

Kirk came down and applied the dagger with his third 3-pointer. That 64-53 lead pretty much ended it. The Lobos mopped up for the 70-60 win.

First Half: New Mexico 28, San Diego State 26

The Lobos got a solid inside effort from Kirk, who went 4-of-7 from the floor for 11 points. UNM also got five points from Bairstow and five from Snell.

UNM shot 37.5 percent in the half and SDSU was at 40 percent. The Aztecs were up on the boards, 18-14. SDSU got eight points from Franklin on 2-of-6 shooting from the floor. The Lobos beat the Aztecs at the line 9-of-12 to 5-of-6.